For example, in the following exchange,

"Shut up!" she yelled. "I can't think when you ramble."

(For context, it's for a novel or online story publication.) I want to emphasize the two words shut up using italics. Normally, if there was only one word or a part of a sentence emphasized, I would only italicize that word or part:

"I said there were three people missing. Can't you ever listen?"

Clearly, only the word is italicized. What if the whole dialog is emphasized? Which is correct:

"Shut up!" she yelled. (only the two words are italicized)

"Shut up!" she yelled (the exclamation mark is italicized)

"Shut up!" she yelled (the whole sentence, including quotation marks, is italicized.)

Or are none of these correct?

  • 1
    "emphasized" on the word 'three'.
    – B D
    Apr 2, 2018 at 12:52

2 Answers 2


Purely a question of formatting aesthetics.

If it's a personal story or you're distributing it, do whatever you like. (I would italicize everything, including the quote marks so they hug the italic text nicely.)

If you're being published professionally, the publisher will have its own style guide and formatting preference.


Great question,

I think it's about your personal preference, really.

Surely you don't really need to italicised your dialogue unless of course you're using them to empathise the point on your speech with a sharper tone.

I personally would rather avoid them entirely in dialogues.


"Shut up!" she yelled.

You'd already indicate that she's stressing her words by adding exclamation point while explaining what the subject(she)is doing(yells). Perhaps you could go by adding some descriptive behaviour on the way that she yells. Frantically? With exasperation?

As for,

"I said there were three people missing. Can't you ever listen?"

Perhaps you could use some method like this.

"I said there were three people missing. Can't you ever listen?" Jake explained once more, empathised on the word 'three'.

or something like

"I said there were 'three' people missing. Can't you ever listen?"

Notice that I'd added apostrophe on the word 'three' to sharpen the tone.

It is all about what you feel most comfortable with. Some writers would use italicise words to indicate a character's thought. Some uses them to manipulate the tones of a character. And some uses them to clarify their point, like a missing joke that a reader could potentially miss. Just be mindful with it.

  • 2
    It is probably a matter of personal style. I feel like italicized yelling adds a visceral something to an otherwise recited yell. The narrator himself is getting upset, too. Maybe. I'd also prefer to have the reader infer the emotion rather than having to explain that this dialogue was frantic, while this dialog was patient. Sort of a show, don't tell approach to dialogue.
    – whiterook6
    Aug 9, 2016 at 20:46
  • @whiterook6 yes, I'm totally agree with you. It is a matter of personal style.
    – Crestial
    Aug 10, 2016 at 3:15
  • 1
    Some forum software puts quotes into italic text automatically. In many web articles, quotes are italicized too.
    – neverMind9
    Apr 27, 2019 at 10:09
  • @Crestial This is bad advice. Of course you can use italics in speech. In fact, it would be far better to italicise one word than to use a long clumsy phrase like "Jake explained once more, empathised on the word 'three'."
    – Paul Jones
    Mar 3, 2023 at 13:04

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